NE Premier League: Hetton Lyons are searching to fill the void left by overseas player Faiz Fazal

Hetton Lyons opening batsman Johnny Malkin in action against Newcastle last Saturday. Picture by Kevin Brady
Hetton Lyons opening batsman Johnny Malkin in action against Newcastle last Saturday. Picture by Kevin Brady

They say timing is everything, and that could well ring true for Tynemouth, the surprise leaders of the Premier Division, who entertain a Hetton Lyons team missing their overseas professional.

Faiz Fazal left the country at the beginning of the week to join up with the Indian squad for their tour of Zimbabwe, and he is not expected back until the end of June.

In the meantime, Lyons are exploring all avenues to try and source a substitute, although that is a difficult task at any stage of the season, not least in early June.

Fazal already has over 300 league runs to his name, a tally that includes two centuries, so he leaves a big hole to fill, and with Brydon Carse unlikely to be released by Durham following some injury problems, Lyons will travel to Preston Avenue with a weakened line-up.

While no decision has been made as yet, it’s likely that Shaun Birbeck will be asked to step in.

Tynemouth have only finished in the top half of the NEPL once in its 16-year history, so their rise to the summit has surprised many.

And they could have been in an even stronger position if they had shown a little more adventure at Stockton last week where their opponents dug in for a draw with nine wickets down.

Stu Poynter has played an important role in their success – he is the league’s second top scorer with 363 runs, while Tahir Khan and Finn Lonnberg have been their main attacking weapons with 25 wickets between them.

Top of the league batting tree is Gordon Muchall, who has already amassed 429 runs from five innings, including three centuries – only being dismissed once.

His form has inspired South Shields to three victories so far, including the impressive defeat of champions South North, the Bulls beaten for the first time in over two years.

Shields expect to field a changed team in their home game against the Durham Academy, who themselves turned in a fine display with victory at Benwell Hill.

The home team’s only doubt is over the availability of Andy Dawson, but they may be able to include Michael Dunn.

He has a run out in tomorrow night’s T20 game following his recovery from a hernia operation, and his fitness will be assessed on Saturday morning.

Chester-le-Street came through last weekend with flying colours, winning all their games, and they will be looking to do the same this week as they embark on another three-game marathon which concludes on Sunday with a home Banks Salver tie against in-form Newcastle. They have an unchanged squad at their disposal.

The Cestrians are now sixth after their win over Eppleton, and with just 17 points covering the top half dozen teams, it’s all to play for.

Hosts Whitburn will echo that sentiment, but for different reasons, as their defeat at Gateshead Fell has left them dangerously close to the relegation slot, although they will, perhaps, draw some comfort from the fact they have become a bit of a bogey team for Chester over the last few years.

Eppleton welcome Stockton to Church Road and expect to have Gary Burlinson and Craig Scurr back, although they are unlikely to see Paul Coughlin because of his Durham commitments.

They begin their weekend tomorrow night with a home Co-operative funeralcare T20 tie against Sacriston, while in other second round group games, Whitburn play Durham Academy, Chester-le-Street are at Stockton and Hetton Lyons entertain Washington.